In the City of Fairfax, it’s the Planning Commission’s responsibility to plan for the City’s future development. Toward that end – and after three years of work, information-gathering, input from a wide variety of sources and countless revisions – it created Fairfax’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan.
The extensive document even comes with an implementation guide, advising City entities on how best to carry out its recommendations. And following a Feb. 12 public hearing, the City Council adopted it.
Planning Commission Chair Janet Jaworski officially presented the document, saying, “We believe this is truly a forward-thinking, aspirational plan that’ll guide the City in achieving its vision over the next 15-20 years.”
Mayor David Meyer then thanked the Planning Commission and everyone else who worked on this detailed roadmap for the Fairfax’s future, saying, “This has been a long journey.” And the City’s Planning Division Chief, Paul Nabti, explained the main components of the plan to the Council members.
He said its creation was a team effort by the Planning Commission, City Council, Community Development and Planning staff, City boards and commissions, residents, business owners and other stakeholders, such as GMU. In fact, one of the recommendations is for Fairfax and GMU to formalize an agreement between themselves.
The Comprehensive Plan’s overall vision statement is: “In 2035, the City of Fairfax has a strong, sustainable economy to support a vibrant 21st-century community.” In the document, 14 guiding principles are organized into five chapters: Land Use, Multimodal Transportation, Environment and Sustainability, Economic Vitality, and Community Services.
HIGHLIGHTS of the 14 principles and recommended actions to achieve them are as follows:
• Land Use: A mix of development types, plus high-quality design, should maintain the City’s unique character as it evolves. They should complement the surroundings and contribute to an “attractive, accessible and economically viable” place.
• Neighborhoods: Preserve the various neighborhoods’ appeal by making sure infill housing fits in with the surroundings and expanding pedestrian networks to increase connectivity.
• Commercial Corridors and Activity Centers: Flourishing centers of commercial and mixed-use activities including restaurants, cafés, grocery stores, entertainment venues, retail stores, offices and housing. Five existing commercial centers are targeted for redevelopment.
“The [former] mixed-use designation was replaced by ‘activity center,’” said Nabti. “The Northfax and Old Town activity centers are considered the most important for development.”
• Housing: Renovate current housing stock and develop housing types not heavily represented. Implement policies and programs encouraging affordable housing, and expand options for older adults and people with disabilities. Said Nabti: “This plan recommends specific tools to achieve more affordable housing in the City.”
• Community Design and Historic Preservation: Protect and preserve buildings of historic or architectural significance and ensure that adjacent redevelopment doesn’t detract from them.
• Multimodal Transportation: Continue improving all modes of transportation so residents may easily, safely and efficiently move within and between neighborhoods, either by walking, bicycling, taking public transportation or driving. Said Nabti: “Each City street is now listed as a particular type and takes into consideration bicyclists and pedestrians, too.”
• Natural Environment: Implement protective measures to safeguard the City’s air, water, vegetation and wildlife from development impacts and better prepare Fairfax for natural and man-made hazards.
• Sustainability Initiatives: Establish a green building-policy for the City and achieve 100-percent renewable energy usage in government buildings by 2035, and the same thing, communitywide, by 2050.
• Economic Vitality: Promote development and redevelopment of Commercial Corridors and Activity Centers, plus attract new businesses and diversity businesses citywide.
• Education: Continue offering first-class instruction and facilities for students, plus educational opportunities for residents of all ages.
• Parks and Recreation: Monitor needs and opportunities for new and expanded parks and recreation facilities; and enhance and widen program offerings.
• Cultural Arts: Study the need for new and expanded facilities and programs to serve the arts program.
• Government and Public Safety: Continue providing high-quality services to residents and businesses with first-class facilities and equipment.
• Infrastructure and Utilities: Explore implementation of advanced technologies with regard to the City’s water, sewer, energy, telecommunications, waste-removal and transportation systems.
During the public-comment portion of the public hearing, residents weighed in on the Plan. “I think this Plan will be a north star for our community,” said Tom Ross, representing Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth. “It’s extremely well-done and recognizes the immense change going on in and around us.” He also suggested the City hold an informal, annual meeting to evaluate how well it’s doing.
However, several residents were upset that, per City Council’s request, a dedicated funding source for the Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing was removed from the Plan. Betsy Bicknell, who served on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Housing, was one of them, and urged that it be reinstated.
She also said the Plan should contain a numerical target for the creation of new, affordable units. “It’s impossible to measure our progress without a goal,” she explained. Noting that all the neighboring jurisdictions have adopted affordable dwelling unit (ADU) ordinances, she said the City should adopt one, too.
“Provide a portion of the real-estate tax every year to sustain a robust and dedicated Housing Trust Fund,” said Bicknell. “It could be used to rehabilitate and preserve existing affordable housing or to help leverage other funding streams for new construction.”
She also encouraged City Council to approve development projects containing ADUs and to partner with ADU developers to build affordable housing. “Our target for additional affordable housing is more than 600 units,” said Bicknell. “To get anywhere near [that] requires building [them]. The Housing Trust fund might be used to acquire land.”
AGREEING with her, Jim Gillespie said the greatest housing need in the City is for families earning below 60 percent of the area median income of $108,600. He then suggested working with Fairfax County to obtain more ADUs. And GMU student Joseph Fernando urged the Council to “Keep in mind college-age students who suffer from housing instability.”
Diane Henn agreed with Bicknell and Gillespie, but didn’t want “too-dense development, as well as the traffic it would bring.” And, she added, “A more vibrant center of town should be built next to the Historic District to attract more visitors to the City and its businesses, southeast of Main Street, off University Drive.”
Gary Bottorff was pleased about formalizing an agreement between Fairfax and GMU, “or else the university may develop in a way we don’t like.” Colin Riley said the Plan’s objective should be improving the citizens’ quality of life, and he worried that the amount of new residential development considered would be too dense.
Afterward, Councilman Michael DeMarco made a motion to adopt the Plan, seconded by Councilwoman Janice Miller. “This plan had a lot of citizen input,” said DeMarco. “It sets the stage for the future and will guide our – and future Councils’ – decisions, going forward. And the implementation guide gives us the ability to adapt and make changes without having to amend the whole Comprehensive Plan.”
Miller thanked the Planning Commission, planning staff and citizens for all their hard work. Councilwoman Jennifer Passey said the Planning Commission will keep the City in line with the new Plan. She also called the process creating the document “a true testament to the close-knit community we are.”
Like DeMarco, Councilman Sang Yi said, “We need to be able to adapt and re-prioritize as the environment changes, and this Plan gives us flexibility.” Councilwoman So Lim said the Plan will “make our City more vibrant and economically viable, while maintaining its charm.” And Councilman Jon Stehle was pleased that City residents were part of the Plan’s creation, from the start.
“This Comprehensive Plan doesn’t satisfy everyone,” said Meyer. “I believe the funding for affordable housing will be addressed through the budget process. And I believe the ADU ordinance will be adopted; staff is currently working on this.” Then, before the Council unanimously approved the Plan, he said, “This will be the roadmap by which we and other councils will make our decisions.”